Rebecca Farm is quiet.
On Monday, five days from the start of the 18th rendition of The Event at Rebecca Farm, there are no competitors unloading their horses early. Vendors are not setting up the trade fair and concessionaires are not preparing their booths to feed hordes of spectators.
Usually around 650 competitors, including a strong international contingent, descend upon the Flathead Valley for five days every July to compete in the premiere equestrian triathlon.
Watching the dressage, show jumping and cross country competitions are more than 5,000 spectators, half of whom hail from out of state.
This year, due to the COVID-19 outbreak, The Event will be more low key.
“It’s kind of a retro Herron Park-style horse trials,” said event manager Sarah Broussard. “It was a small show back in our second year, so this is kind of a cool flashback.”
The Event originated in the mid 1980s as the Herron Park Horse Trials, a small competition with mostly local riders. In 2002, The Event moved to Rebecca Farm and has grown into one of the largest eventing competitions west of the Mississippi.
This year’s event has turned out to be a throwback to the originals— fewer crowds and less pomp — as only 230 competitors will be in attendance and a bare bones staff will be on hand to manage the event.
The United States Equestrian Federation (USEF), which sanctions competitions like The Event at Rebecca Farm, has set up strict COVID regulations for competitions taking place this year. As a USEF sanctioned event, no spectators are allowed on site this year, entrant numbers are limited and since no international qualifying events in the region have been held this year, there will be no international divisions.
During the spring, when the novel coronavirus closed much of the nation, all horse sports in the U.S. were shut down through the end of May. Broussard said it was a day-by-day wait to find out whether she would be able to go forward with The Event.
Since June, a few eventing competitions have been held on the east coast and in California, but The Event at Rebecca Farm will be the first competition in the northwest —or Area VII, per the United States Eventing Association — which comprises Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Montana.
“Our courses this year are slightly softer, a little easier than we’ve done in years past,” said Broussard. “Simply because it’s the first event — usually in a competitive season the spring events are fairly soft and in summer they crack down on you.”
For safety, when competitors, officials and volunteers enter the property each day, they will under go temperature checks. All entrants will be monitored daily, masks will be required where six feet of social distancing cannot be observed and hand sanitizing stations will be prevalent on the grounds.
There will be limited people onsite altogether, as only about three-quarters of the usual number of volunteers are needed this year and only a third of the officials.
Stabling has also been altered to allow for empty stalls to separate groups. As another precaution, competitors were not allowed to arrive in Kalispell early this year, which accounted for the almost eerily quiet scene at Rebecca Farm on Monday.
“There’s not a lot of horses, and not a lot of hoopla this year,” said Broussard.
Come start-of-competition on Friday, however, and Broussard expects things to feel more like normal.
On Friday, July 24, The Event will kick off with dressage. Saturday and Sunday will feature both show jumping and cross-country.
The biggest change Broussard expects to feel over the weekend is the lack of crowds in attendance.
“Having the spectators definitely heightens the energy, but with less people it’s not as nerve wracking, and I think competitors will feel that too,” said Broussard. “But, we’re really going to miss all of that, the hustle and the bustle.”
Now that The Event is finally underway, Broussard is just glad she’s able to provide a way for riders to get back on their horses.
“People are just ready to go somewhere and ride,” Broussard said. “I think there’s going to be a lot of happy people here this weekend — there’s good weather and they’re at Rebecca Farm with their horse.”